Current veterinary hospital, clinic designs trend toward client comfort and convenience
March 31, 2021
Dr. Marty Greer built her first clinic, Veterinary Village, with her husband, Dr. Dan Griffiths, in a bean field in rural Wisconsin. The two later built on to that practice and added a whole new concept—one that included a three-bay garage for clients who may have mobility issues or weather-related concerns such as slipping on ice. Additionally, the garage bays benefit pets that can’t be moved or are stressed inside standard examination rooms.
JAVMA News spoke with several architects and veterinarians about hospital and clinic design trends, including unique offerings such as drive-thru service and glass windows in examination rooms so pet owners can see into treatment areas. The COVID-19 pandemic may have changed how most veterinary practices operate, but according to experts, it has yet to disrupt design trends seen pre-pandemic and has only accelerated existing ones.
For example, Dr. Greer had long wanted to build an entirely drive-thru clinic, but she sat on the idea for nearly seven years. When the pandemic led most veterinary practices to move to curbside service, she was disappointed that her newest veterinary hospital, Checkout Veterinary, wasn’t operating yet. Construction on the building, located near Madison, Wisconsin, just finished this March. Dr. Greer says the space was planned to put client comfort and convenience first. It has a four-bay garage and is drive-thru only, with room to expand to four more bays if there is demand.
Dr. Greer hopes to franchise the patented design in the future and thinks that more veterinarians will embrace the idea.
Daniel Eisenstadt is CEO and chairman of Terravet Real Estate Solutions, a real estate group that owns about 1 million square feet of veterinary and other health care properties in 30 states. He says veterinary medicine is “underparked.”
“Parking has always been something of a challenge for many veterinary practices,” he said. “Pre-COVID, there were already parking challenges, and it has accelerated now because pet owners have been waiting in their cars.”
Dr. Dana Varble, chief veterinary officer of the North American Veterinary Community, said staff safety needs to be considered in parking lots, too.
“Depending on the parking lots and lights, you don’t want your staff running across the parking lot, across parking lanes to get pets,” Dr. Varble said.
Instead, clinics should be able to control traffic and lots should be well lit so staff members are safe while collecting pets. Dr. Varble added that it is not just about designating parking spaces for curbside service, but also making sure spaces are arranged and designed around patient and staff safety.
The NAVC hosts an annual hospital design seminar where veterinary professionals can learn key tips for remodeling or building a hospital.
Eisenstadt said investment in parking and the flow of parking lots will continue to be a high priority as curbside services continue. He suggested proper signage on parking spots and directional signs are key to keeping the lot safe and moving.
There is a whole other flow to consider inside a practice.
Ashley Shoults, a partner at Animal Arts, an animal care architectural firm, said she sees more exterior doors being used to access examination rooms directly in the future. That way, anxious pets don’t have to enter through a waiting area or lobby.
“There is also potential that the waiting room will go away,” Shoults said. “Not completely, but they can be a lot smaller.”
Shoults added that she sees veterinarians needing more office space for telehealth-related calls and that she could see some waiting rooms or lobbies being converted into office space or examination rooms.
“The biggest priorities are revenue-generating spaces,” Shoults said. “And the right flow through the space so there isn’t an inefficient floor plan.”
The average practice decreased in size by about 200 square feet between 2019 and 2020, according to the most recent AVMA Practice Owner Survey. However, the average number of examination rooms stayed steady at about three.
Some practice owners are thinking about removing the dividing line between the treatment area and examination rooms.
Shoults said the typical pet owners want to be more involved in the care of their animals.
Modern Animal, a California-based startup with a clinic in West Hollywood, is all about that transparency.
Dr. Christie Long, a small animal veterinarian who is head of medicine for Modern Animal, said the design of the clinic allows people to see through it from one end to the other.
“When you stand on the sidewalk, you can see into surgery,” Dr. Long said. “There is a porthole into the surgery suite. … Letting clients come into the back and observe their pet’s care will promote our expertise, especially for veterinary technicians.”
Veterinary practices across the U.S. have had to make changes because of the pandemic and various social distancing guidelines, including Modern Animal.
The clinic opened amid the pandemic, but a part of its initial concept was an app that allows for texts, chats, and videos. This has helped the company easily shift to providing curbside service.
Shoults said she expects to see many new design concepts in the next few years after the pandemic.
“People have ideas,” she said. “They haven’t necessarily started implementing them because we are still in it.”
Shoults suggested the veterinarians who want to remodel or build a new space should consider the following:
Have an of idea what you want to do.
Use the right surfaces and finishes.
Carefully consider your ventilation system.
Talk to people well versed in designing these facilities.
Think about unique design options such as drive-thru access, outdoor waiting areas, and exterior examination doors.
Eisenstadt believes the COVID pandemic will also change the space veterinarians dedicate to pharmacy and pet food sales. He also expects veterinary practices to move away from converted homes.
“Often, they’re ill suited for the highest-quality practice and for the working environment,” Eisenstadt said. “They were homey; they grew out of one-doctor practices. But from a heating, ventilation, and workflow point of view, they’re not great. There is a secular trend to thoughtful renovation in terms of design, but I see more purpose built or purpose converted.”
Eisenstadt said there was already a move toward this trend, but COVID has accelerated the shift toward more single-tenant buildings, and he anticipates a move away from strip mall–based practices, too.
“It’s harder to offer curbside services and drop-offs when there is a pizza place and a nail salon next door because of the issues related to parking and flow of traffic for other customers,” Eisenstadt said.
Dr. Greer considered a lot of elements when designing and building her drive-thru hospital, but client needs were at the top. She saw a sign once that said, “Stop selling what you have, and sell what they want.”
She pointed to the full glass walls in the examination rooms and the drive-thru concept as what pet owners want because they create less stress for the animal and more convenience for the clients.
“Veterinarians have always done what they do, but they don’t necessarily do what the clients want,” Dr. Greer said. “It is not about what the veterinarian wants or needs but what the client needs.”